Can smartphones and tablets cause depression?
Smartphones and other portable devices, such as tablets, are ubiquitous these days. Children and adolescents also use such devices. Researchers have now analyzed whether excessive screen time in children and adolescents leads to mental health risks and is involved in the development of depression. The results of the study suggest that not only social disorders or direct effects on the brain are primarily responsible for depression, but also the lack of sleep caused by surfing the Internet or playing apps has a significant impact.
The researchers at Stony Brook University found in their current study that the use of smartphones and other portable technical devices in children and adolescents leads to a lack of sleep, which promotes the development of depression. The doctors published the results of their study at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC’s annual conference, SLEEP 2018.
Almost everyone has a smartphone these days
Portable technical devices such as smartphones and tablets are indispensable nowadays. Especially our children and adolescents are growing up with these devices, of course the question arises whether the use of these devices can have negative health consequences for those affected.
Doctors analyze data from almost 3,000 adolescents
The data analyzed in the study came from a survey of almost 3,000 teenagers, which was collected between 2014 and 2017. The survey asked teenagers how much time they spent in front of four different types of screen activity. These included: watching television, playing games, exchanging messages with friends on so-called social networking sites and generally surfing the Internet. The participants were also asked about their sleeping habits. Any symptoms of depression were also considered, the scientists explain.
More time in front of the screen increases the risk of depression
As previously noted in other studies, more time in front of the screen was associated with a greater risk of developing depression. However, the current study found for the first time a connection between lack of sleep through the use of portable technical devices and depressive symptoms, the authors explain.
Technical devices impair high quality sleep
If the teenagers spent a lot of time in front of the screen of their computers, TVs, smartphones or tablets, the same people also reported less sleep, which led to more depressive symptoms, the doctors add. Higher rates of depressive symptoms in teenagers can be partly explained by the ubiquitous use of technical devices that can affect high-quality restful sleep, says study author Xian Stella Li from Stony Brook University.
Which activities in front of the screen were particularly harmful?
However, there were differences between the different activities in front of the screen. Communication with friends was less associated with depressive feelings than, for example, playing apps or video games. Sleep alone accounted for about 35 percent of the association between gaming and depressive symptoms, doctors say. (It should be noted, however, that depressive symptoms are not the same as full blown depression.)
Why does time in front of the screen lead to depression?
It's no surprise that inadequate sleep is bad for mental and physical health, but a connection between screen time and child depression was difficult to analyze, the doctors explain. For example, some researchers have suggested that too much screen time isolates people from other people. However, there have also been theories that the bright light from the screens affects the brain. There are also some scientists who argue that children don't get depressed from watching TV and video games too much, they sit in front of these screens a lot more because they are already depressed. Unfortunately, the current study does not solve this debate. But it is definitely true that many people, especially teenagers, do not get enough sleep. Some studies have already shown that only about ten percent of young people receive the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep a night, the experts explain. (as)